Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top 15 Classic OSR Blog Posts: On Theory and History

What follows is part one of a three-part list of individual blog entries that fulfill my criteria for being "classic." Obviously that is a highly subjective term, and even before I outline my (admittedly slapdash) criteria for "classic" post selection, let me emphasize that these are MY picks for blog posts I return to over and over again. In other words, these are the posts that have been most influential to ME over time, so perhaps my using the term "classic" is a misnomer, as that status should really be conferred via some process of group / community consensus.

But these are the posts that are Classics TO ME, so take that or leave it.

This post lists Classic OSR Posts dealing with "Theory and History," i.e., general ruminating or ranting about what our hobby "means," discussing the role our blog community plays in the development and sustenance of our hobby, and/or documenting the real-world history of D&D, TSR, et. al. Part two (to be presented in a forthcoming post) will list Classic OSR Blog Posts that deal with in-game matters like setting design, DM strategies, good role-playing, creating new game content, etc.

Criteria / selection process:

1. I went with relatively well-known or "popular" OSR blogs. My main way of determining said popularity was by consulting Cyclopeatron's December 2010 report of Old School Blog rankings -- no post could be deemed an OSR "Classic" unless it came from a blog that scored fairly high up in those rankings. I didn't have a specific numerical cutoff point in mind when I started, but in the end, the lowest-ranked blog represented in this part of the list is in the 27th rank; most are in the low teens or higher.

2. The "test of time" was a factor, but a fairly minor one. While some readers could (rightly) argue that "Classic" implies something that has been around for awhile, remember that this is MY fucking list so in a few cases I included much more recent posts that happened to capture the "Classic" ethos or strongly spoke to me as I was compiling this Top 15. Nevertheless, overall I tried to favor posts that had been around in the blogosphere for a little while.

3. I play Labyrinth Lord in a Tolkienesque / Gygaxian mode. That preference surely colors my choices here, since (for example) there are no posts listed that deal with Gamma World / Mutant Future, Traveller, T&T, etc. -- believe me, it was hard enough narrowing this thing to a mere 15 posts as it is.

4. Lastly, in terms of my engagement with the online community, I mostly just read OSR blogs. I do not visit the discussion boards, I am not an avid web-surfer, etc. So everything on this list is stuff I found via my own primitive knocking around in the OSR blogosphere. Many apologies in advance if my own ignorance diminishes the interest or accuracy of the list.

All that said, I strongly urge anyone who disagrees with what I've included here or who spots obvious omissions to offer corrective comments below, or, even better, create your own "Classic Blog Post" lists as well -- I'd love to read them!

Note that this list is NOT in order of preference or "rank," but simply organized in a way that makes for interesting reading if read in this sequence.

1. Trollsmyth, "A Theoretical Framework for the OSR"
I admit I am not a super-regular reader of Trollsmyth's blog, but once in a while, he lays down something that really speaks to me. This post is one such case, and it seemed a great post with which to kick off the "On Theory and History" portion of the Classic Posts List.

2. Playing D&D With Porn Stars, "Like Playing Monopoly With Squatters"
Regular readers know that porn is only one important aspect of what Zak Sabbath offers on his excellent blog. Zak is a sharp writer and insightful RPG theorist, and this post is one of my all-time favorites about what the RPG experience is like in broad terms. And its title rocks.

3. Cyclopeatron, "Gary Gygax's Whitebox OD&D Houserules"
Cyclopeatron's list and discussion of EGG's own LBB house rules is refreshingly insightful, and definitely Classic.

4. Grognardia, "Picaro and the 'Story' of D&D"
James Maliszewski's most important (and , as always, highly enlightening) analysis of the roots of old-school D&D -- a breakdown of where its "DNA" and original premises came from, especially as regards "story." This post is required reading for anyone interested in the distinction between older editions of D&D and the newer ones James mentions near the end of the post.

5. Grognardia, "A Game of One's Own"
As anyone reading this knows, James Maliszewski is the undisputed leader of the OSR blogosphere (a recent post I saw somewhere referred to him as the "Pope" of the OSR). His insights into our hobby are always well-balanced, carefully considered, and informed by his many years of experience as a gamer and RPG industry professional. This is one of James' posts I refer back to a lot, for it succinctly sums up why I am in this hobby and why I play the specific types of games I do.

6. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, "I Hate Fun"
When I first started reading OSR blogs, James Edward Raggi IV's was the first one that made me jump out of my seat with delighted astonishment. While Maliszewski often speaks for me, iterating ideas I have maybe thought about myself but have not so clearly or authoritatively articulated, Raggi speaks to me, provoking me to consider our hobby in new ways I would not have come up with on my own. If Maliszewski is classic rock, Raggi is metal. And speaking of metal, this classic post was first drafted as an introduction to Raggi's metal 'zine, later adapted to address RPGs. See also Raggi's year-later retrospective on this post, I Hate Fun One Year Later.

7. LotFP, "The Cowardice of the Modern Grognard, or, Supplement V - Carcosa Reviewed"
This is Raggi at his passionate best, and I happen to agree with every word of this post.

8. ChicagoWiz's RPG Blog, "Old School Play - 'explore it'"
In response to Zak's awesome Riddles In The Dark post (to be discussed in a forthcoming Top 15 List), ChicagoWiz wrote this succinct post that exactly describes me. I play video games -- and D&D -- in exactly this same way, and thus this post is an "Instant Classic" for me.

9. Grognardia, "Thoughts on D&D Product Chronology Part 1"
This is actually my favorite single post ever published on Grognardia. I think one of the most essential and valuable functions James M. performs in his role as an historian of our hobby is to produce accurate analytical commentaries like this one. His D&D Product Chronology -- required contextual reading for this analysis thereof -- is something I refer back to again and again. When it comes to providing a knowledgeable and nuanced perspective on events in RPG history and their significance, nobody does it better than Maliszewski -- something this post aptly demonstrates. I prefer this "Thoughts Part 1" installment because it discusses the period of the D&D hobby I am most interested in, but you should also check out part two of his excellent commentary.

10. Jeff's Gameblog, "Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads (a rant)"
This post by the inimitable Jeff Rients not only wins the "Best Blog Post Title Ever" contest, its content is a brilliant assessment of exactly what is and is not important about the OSR movement. In very few words, it puts the term "New Golden Age of RPGs" firmly in its place, right where it belongs: at our game tables. Well said Jeff!

11. Akratic Wizardry, "The BRP Renaissance"
This succinct post offers an interesting insight into a somewhat overlooked aspect of our hobby, basic role-playing systems like Runequest. While I do not play the games under discussion, this post by Akrasia is one of those that forces me to reconsider / expand my notion of what my hobby actually entails / includes. Well done!

12. The RPG Corner, "Alternate RPG History"
Like Akrasia's post just discussed, SirLarkins' cool "Thought Experiment" outlined in this post really expands my thinking and gets my creative juices flowing. One of the best "What If?" posts I've ever read.

13. Jeff's Gameblog, "I got your threefold model right here, buddy!"
As usual, Jeff Rients uses a provocative and amusing title to lure the reader into a sharp and succinct post about a new way to conceptualize the RPG subculture in general. Meant as slightly tongue-in-cheek yet, as he points out, uncannily accurate as well. Great chart!

14. The Underdark Gazette, "OSR News Sunday, January 23, 2010"
The last two Classic posts on today's list represent two bloggers' efforts to chronicle the existence and output of the OSR blogosphere itself. James Smith's Underdark Gazette is a must-read for me, something I look forward to every time a new edition comes out. (Note that I linked to the latest version he had at the time I compiled the list; the specific edition above is not being singled out, merely offered as a representative example of the great work James does regularly.) James's "OSR News" tracks key developments in the OSR, offering reviews and product updates, spotlighting interesting blogs, etc. Great stuff, James, keep it coming!

15. Cyclopeatron, "December Old School Blog Rankings"
Last but surely not least is Cyclopeatron's Old School Blog rankings. This important feature helps us all to see what is out there in our community, and to get a sense for what everybody else is reading. What's more it is FUN (at least for me) to see where one stands in the community as a whole. Kudos to Cyclopeatron for providing this useful and interesting service! (Not to mention his list of links to all those ranked blogs.)

Bonus Honorable Mention Post!
I must additionally mention Hack & Slash's excellent (and thoroughgoing) OSR Essential Blog Reading List. Well worth a look!

That's all for now. Tune in next time for Top Classic OSR Blog Posts: On Game Design and Campaign Resources


  1. What a great idea. I don't think I have read any of them and I've been reading, and more recently blogging, for a year. Thanks. I could do with a dose of the games roots.

  2. Somebody mentioned that tomorrow is some kind of "National dredge up some old posts and bring them to everyone's attention day". Timely!

  3. Nice, these posts are all sorts of awesome - good job digging them up. I read a bunch of them, ran to the bathroom, and watched in the mirror as the D&D portion of brain started to mutate... stronger, faster, smarter. I think just leveled up.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out. I'm deeply honored to be in that sort of company. :D

  5. I'm Waaayy Honored myself! :)

  6. One of the best "What If?" posts I've ever read.

    Too kind, sir, too kind! It's easy to forget sometimes that throwing random thoughts up on the impersonal Web can have an impact on other folks.

  7. An excellent list! I'm also quite honored to be included!

  8. Thanks. Having only been around reading this stuff for half a year, I'm not always getting some of the "landmark" posts. This helps.

  9. Heh. When I saw the title of this post, I was like, I just *did* that.

    Thanks for the shout out at the bottom of the page.